By Cliff Collins
|"I am an independant thinker. The greatness of America is her heritage of independant and creative thought.|
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Oregon State Bar member Maj. Gen. Raymond F. Rees was vice chief of the agency that oversaw homeland security.
Rees, who assumed duties in July 2005 as adjutant general for the Oregon National Guard, was, at the time of Sept. 11, second in command of the National Guard Bureau, which was responsible for putting 700 Guard members in 440 airports within seven days after the terrorist attacks.
The bureau also was charged with supplementing border security at a time before the Department of Homeland Security existed. Each state National Guard reports to its respective governor, so the role of the National Guard Bureau is communication rather than command, says Rees, a native of Pendleton.
It was a high-pressure time that he now calls "very challenging," especially having to deal with numerous agencies in Washington, D.C., as well as the National Governors Association. "You have to be persuasive," he muses. "There are a lot of moving parts."
Moving, especially in an upward direction, is something Rees excelled at early. He spent all of his school years in tiny Helix, finishing second out of a class of seven. From there he gained an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Rees had a strong interest in military history during his school days and says he was "strongly influenced by several uncles who had served in World War II."
At West Point, law-related courses got him thinking that if he didn’t continue in the military, he might become a lawyer. But following graduation as a commissioned officer, his immediate task was to serve active duty in Germany and Vietnam. After completing active duty in 1973, he entered law school at the University of Oregon.
He then joined two other attorneys in practice in Pendleton. But after just 18 months, Rees’ father died, and Rees made a hard decision: to leave the practice and tend to family interests on their 2,200-acre wheat farm, as well as his own rising responsibilities in the National Guard. His wife, Mary-Len, jokingly charges her husband with breach of contract, saying, "I married a lawyer and ended up with a farmer."
But Rees, who goes by the first name Fred, found after a couple of years that managing the property was too much as his responsibilities in the military grew. His command of an Oregon Guard unit in La Grande led to his being selected to become a regimental commander in Idaho. Being offered such a post in another state’s Guard was "highly unusual," Rees notes, and his six-month stint in Twin Falls attracted the attention of then-Oregon Gov. Neil Goldschmidt. In 1987, Goldschmidt appointed Rees adjutant general of the Oregon National Guard.
It was to be the first of three times he would serve as head of Oregon’s National Guard. "I’ve been back and forth between that and Washington, D.C., and Colorado for almost 20 years," moving a total of seven times, he says. After four years at the helm in Salem, he became director of the Army National Guard at the National Guard Bureau, then vice chief and acting chief of the bureau.
In 1994, he returned to Oregon for about five years as adjutant general of the Oregon Guard, then again served alternately as vice chief and acting chief of the National Guard Bureau, and from May 2003 until June 2005, Rees was chief of staff of the U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado. He came home to Oregon last July.
Rees says an adjutant general’s primary responsibility is to the state, but he believes he was called to participate at the national level because "I had a reputation of being concerned about the National Guard as a whole, as a part of the constitutional fabric of this country. Because of that, I served on a variety of national committees that dealt with national issues." He values those experiences: "The reward of serving at the national level is that you are able to affect policy decisions five to 10 years out."
The Oregon Guard has gained a positive national reputation, which he partly attributes to policies he worked to put into place in the early 1990s. "This led to initial call-ups in the war on terror," Rees says. "It was evident that the Oregon Guard could respond." As another example, he points to the rapid response after Hurricane Katrina: "We were able, from a cold start here, to get 2,000 people ready to go in 72 hours."
Although Rees spent only a short time actually practicing law, he never has regretted obtaining a degree. "Coming in at a relatively young age as head of government agency, I always felt my legal background was helpful, because it gave me confidence to ask the right questions. ... And it is this legal background of mine that helped me frame the issues."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cliff Collins is a Portland freelance writer and a frequent contributor to the Bulletin.
© 2006 Cliff Collins